Sustainable profitability depends on good brand character

When it comes to building exemplary character the worst place to turn to is rap music because the narcissistic lyrics in every track is the embodiment of a broken society. “No rapper can rap quite like I can,” spits LL Cool J in his hit song I’m Bad, and we cringe when we think about the lyrics our kids are exposed to, in the same way our parents cringed when they thought about what we were dancing to in our time.

We may laugh at LL’s self centered lyrics but it is really embarrassing when top brands take a similar approach in their advertising. “No brand can clean better than I can clean,” says one dirt remover, while the respectable financial institution goes, “In a big continent with big problems you need a big bank like us.” Just add a hip-hop beat and some scattered profanity into their jingle and you might create a hit song.

In the first century when the Greek essayist Plutarch wrote stories about the exemplars in society, he hoped to give us an insight into good character. The resulting ideas can be applied to people as well as they do for corporations because, in the modern world, we tend to judge the organization against the same values that we judge the individual.

Like our societies, brands live in a broken world and astute marketers must navigate a sea of corporate idiosyncrasies as they attempt to align the demands of the shareholders and needs of their customers. It is during the tough times when conflict is the order of the day that character is truly formed, and thus one of the foremost characteristics of endearing brands is balance.

In order to develop a compelling sense of balance, marketing chiefs must find firm ground to stand on, and they should incorporate value-driven strategies if they are to have true meaning in the hearts of their consumers. Without a set of positive values that are observed throughout the organization and expressed through marketing communications, companies will experience the sickening ebb and flow of a choppy sea, leading to a nauseated Board of Directors — a condition that you are best advised to avoid.

The encompassing values come prior to external communication and form the fabric of customer experiences that build the brands reputation. Once the values are set, the brand can speak with one voice and with the consistency that builds confidence and trust.

The struggle against sin and weakness (financial loss and a plummeting stock price according to the Board) is the central drama in life without which character has no meaning because it is that conflict that forces us to derive relevance and differentiation in an overcrowded space. Character is therefor our way of waging that campaign as we are blind sided by new competitors, government regulation threatens to shut us down, or low morale plagues our productivity.

We are constantly bombarded by entrepreneurs and CEOs that have tremendous self confidence and are great self promoters, and sometimes we forget that it is humility and self effacement that are components of good character. However, when we review the Apple brand promotion strategy under Steve Jobs, you find that this larger-than-life personality was primality used as a marketing gimmick to gain visibility and attention. The products themselves seem to be founded on a strong set of values that can stand the test of time.


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